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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Wavves on new album, Club Congress show tonight


    Stephen Pope is nervous, and rightfully so. The bassist for the Los Angeles-based surf punk band Wavves is about to embark on a six-week tour with FIDLAR and Cheatahs, who are both supporting acts that are as riotous as they are loud.

    It’s a touring bill made in hedonistic heaven, yet for what may be the first time, Pope’s band is the veteran of the bunch.

    “I’m scared, but it should be fun though,” Pope said. “We’re starting at South by Southwest, which is a horrible idea because you have to get fucked up to deal with the people at South by Southwest, so we’ll probably all have the flu at the beginning of the tour. I’ll have to take milk thistle — it helps your liver function.”

    It seems that Pope and Nathan Williams, his compatriot and fellow songwriter in Wavves, need all the help they can get in maintaining their physical longevity. Their body of work, however, already stands on its own.

    Formed in 2008 by Williams, Wavves pushed a lo-fi and fuzzed-out sound that was arguably at the forefront of the resurgence of both shoegaze and surf rock, while evoking the apathy and insolence of grunge. With 2010’s King of the Beach, Williams and Pope became press darlings of the likes of NPR and Pitchfork, while placing on various Billboard charts.

    Suddenly, sandy, acid-infused noise rock was in, though the genre sounds as if it was never made to leave a San Diegan’s sepia-toned garage.

    On Afraid of Heights, Wavves’ fourth album, coming out on March 26, the band cleans up its production while getting tonally and lyrically darker. Williams and Pope used their critical accolades to their advantage, opting out of record label support for Afraid of Heights and instead funding production on their own.

    “Any time you have a label, no matter how small the label is, they’ll come into studio eventually and kind of pressure you to finish up or make a radio single,” Pope said. “We didn’t start shopping it around to major labels until we had a finished product — we didn’t want any outside influence on this one.”

    Wavves finally landed on Mom Pop Music, an independent label under the parent umbrella of Sony Music Entertainment. Having cut their teeth in the industry for five years, Pope and Williams know the intricacies of recording deals, and made their own terms for releasing Afraid of Heights.

    “A lot of labels now, even independent labels, do the ‘360 deal,’ where they’ll try to take money from touring, merch and stuff, and Mom Pop didn’t do any of that; they let us have freedom,” he said.

    Freedom can be a fickle thing, however, and spending a year on an album can result in introspective, slightly bitter material, as Afraid of Heights displays. Lead single “Demon To Lean On” finds Williams channeling Kurt Cobain, making snarling references to numb, suicidal abandonment over big pop structures. Writing from such a dark place comes with the environment, as Pope can attest to.

    “It was a pretty weird time, and not in a positive way,” he said. “We were just sort of drinking way too much, and we pretty much only see each other. Being locked in a dark room for 15 hours a day for a year isn’t good for your psyche.”

    Technical obstacles aside, Afraid of Heights is still a confectionary piece of work, digestible to the newest listener while still holding true to sonic elements that will please diehard fans. Wavves may be best at dystopian, bummed-out beach music, but they’re also masters at juxtaposition, and Afraid of Heights doesn’t let you forget that.

    “King of the Beach is often called a sunny, summer album, but it was recorded in the dead of winter in Mississippi, and now they’re saying this new album sounds dark and depressing and it was recorded in bright and sunny L.A.,” Pope said. “Surroundings do influence you but in different ways than you’d expect.”

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